The Knesset building in Givat Ram, Jerusalem.
(photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM)
Going green ‘From Zion will go out the law of green energy,” announced Yuli Edelstein at a ceremony on Sunday, inaugurating the Knesset’s solar rooftop. “What is happening before our very eyes is indeed exciting, a true revolution.”
When the solar rooftop becomes fully operational later this year, it is expected to reduce the Knesset electricity bill by one-third. Taking up over 4,000 square meters of roof space, it is the largest parliamentary solar field in the world, according to the Foreign Ministry.
The Green Knesset initiative was launched last year as a consensus initiative supported by the Likud’s Edelstein as well as Knesset members from Bayit Yehudi, Meretz, and Hadash. It initially comprised 13 approved projects devoted to saving energy and water.See the latest opinion pieces on our Opinion & Blogs Facebook page
Knesset director-general Ronen Plot says he hopes that other governmental institutions and local authorities will follow the Knesset’s lead and inaugurate solar fields of their own. Every little step matters; for instance, the Knesset has begun serving water in glass pitchers rather than plastic bottles. Even a minor detail like that can result in reducing its use of some 60,000 plastic water bottles a year.
However, for these projects to be replicated in government offices throughout the country, it means that other ministries and local councils have to dedicate themselves to the goal of investing in sustainable energy initiatives.
That should mean setting nationwide goals and budgeting for these projects.
The government embrace of a green Israel builds on years of environmental awareness in the country that stretches back to innovations even prior to the state. The innovative Israeli approach has gained plaudits from abroad. In 2011, Sha Zukang, chief of the UN’s Department of Economic and Social Affairs, lauded Israel’s advances in sustainability related to water, agriculture, and other technological innovations.
In 2012 Gilad Erdan led a large Israeli delegation to the UN conference Rio+20 on sustainable development.
The delegation highlighted Israel’s commitment to environmentally friendly agriculture and water management.
Israeli NGOs, research institutes, and local communities are also paving the way. Kibbutz Lotan runs a fellowship for those interested in sustainable development. The Arava Institute runs programs for sustainable development that also encourage innovative small-scale initiatives that can reduce poverty or empower local communities.
And big business is catching on, too. According to the umbrella organization Maala, which works with 130 large companies in Israel dedicated to corporate social and environmental responsibility, some 55% of companies have set goals for reducing fuel and energy use. Companies are also setting goals for reducing waste, putting alternative energies in place, and reducing energy and water usage.
There are estimated to be more than 200 renewable energy companies in Israel, of which 30 percent are start-ups according to the National Sustainable Energy and Water Program of the Ministry of Economy. Israeli and American innovators have worked together to export these innovations abroad, such as Gigawatt Global’s work to establish a solar field in Rwanda, the first of its kind in East Africa.
But for all the glitter associated with pioneering technology and the upbeat stories of sustainable development, the reality has been a mixed success story. Israelis were innovating with solar energy 30 years ago and yet it took decades for large-scale development of solar fields. More than half of Israel’s land area is in the Negev and since the 1950s various government programs have claimed to want to “make the desert bloom.” But the fact is that Israeli companies face endless bureaucratic hurdles to build even modest projects in the Negev.
Arava Power Company, which built the first solar field at Kibbutz Ketura in 2011, had to cut through red tape at 24 different government offices. The Ashalim plant faced similar hurdles as did the 11 new solar projects that went online in the Negev in 2014. Most of these projects are small compared to the potential the Negev has to offer, if its land can be opened up to large-scale projects.
While Israel must balance the environmental impact of such technologies like wind turbines, it must also work to repair environmental disasters like the shrinking Dead Sea.
The country has made remarkable innovations, such as investing in desalination plants and using recycled waste water for agriculture. Now is the time to take the next step forward in all these fields.